The latest Freesat HD digital box to launch is the Manhattan Plaza HD-S Freesat HD Satellite Receiver and we’ve managed to get hold of one pre-release for our first ever joinfreesat review. Manhattan are hoping to add to the success of the existing DS-100 Freesat SD receiver with its ‘big brother’, which includes access to high-definition channels plus a few more features.
On first inspection you notice that the case itself is of good build quality including a silver bevel on the front concealing a few buttons. The unit is also very light and well proportioned thanks to the use of an external power supply which also keeps the case cool after hours of operation. The rear panel is well catered for and includes the LNB in port, HDMI, TV Scart, VCR Scart, S/PDIF (digital optical output), Ethernet and USB.
Setting up the HD-S is simple, just plug in the provided power supply unit and hdmi cable, then connect to your satellite dish cable and power up. You’ll be greeted with the initial setup screen which will guide you through the Freesat setup. The usual options are included to select from, such as screen type (16:9 widescreen or 4:3 traditional) and hdmi resolution to suit your television (576i, 576p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p); the receiver will then carry out a signal check followed by requesting your UK postcode to define the regional channels you’ll receive. A channel scan will follow which takes a minute or so providing you with over 150 TV and radio channels, 5 of which are available in high-definition (BBC1 HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD, NHK World HD). The initial setup is simple, as enforced by Freesat, though you are forced to setup a PIN number for parental control which we would of liked to have skipped. Setup done, time to start viewing.
The first thing you notice when browsing through the channels is how smooth the receiver operates and the good quality picture and sound received on both standard and high-definition channels (though we did have a few sound blips when accessing menus etc). The remote control whilst basic is well structured and we found it incredibly easy to navigate around the various options; the up/down arrows allow you to scroll through the channels and left/right to see what is on now and next. The remote also works pointed in any direction which is a nice change from some that need a very accurate shot!
The EPG/TV Guide is incredibly clear and easy to navigate with 8 channels listed per page; we especially like the option to view channels 2 hours ahead/behind as well as the standard 24 hours +/- using the coloured buttons. Setting reminders is simple, just press the ok button the specific programme and it will be added to the reminders folder where you can view or remove them; again, scrolling the TV guide is very smooth and efficient; it is a shame however that the picture and sound isn’t available whilst in the TV guide, yet is in all the menu options (maybe a fix for the future!)
Within the menu you’ll find the usual options to change picture and sound settings; the layout is clear and very easy to use. Within the (sub) system menu you can setup parental guidance, including hiding the adult content, plus the ability to turn the software update option on or off, or carry out a manual update (current version 1.39). The most important feature within the menu is the non-freesat mode, which allows you to view and add (to favourites) those channels that don’t currently appear in the official Freesat EPG/TV guide. You have the option to either automatically scan for channels (which finds hundreds) or manually tune in specific channels using the frequency information. We decided to try Sky News (yuk!) which was found within seconds and accessed with no problems.
A key feature of the HD-S is the ability to add both Freesat and non-freesat channels to a favourites list. We found adding and removing channels to the favourites list confusing, but being a man reading the instructions within the supplied user guide was not an option! Manhattan have provided multiple favourites lists, we guess for different genres if you wish, or for individual members of your family, but there is no doubt that once you figure out how to add them, it is incredibly handy being able to access a mix of Freesat and non-freesat channels via just one click of a button; you’ll only get a channel list, not programme listings, but it does the trick.
At the moment the Ethernet port is setup to allow access to BBC iPlayer (via your broadband connection), with the expectation of ITV Player to come, plus maybe more. BBC iPlayer is useful, though as with all Freesat receivers, it is a watered down version so don’t expect HD quality as you receive on the PC version. The USB however has no purpose other than for manual software updates, which is a shame as the initial hints were that this device would offer the ability to record to an external USB memory stick or hard drive. It is also a pitty that the USB port hasn’t been used for accessing media files such as pictures, videos and music, but as explained to us by Manhattan, adding those options involved buying rights to various formats and this receiver is being targeted at the lower price bracket, so isn’t intended as a direct competitor to the TechniSat HDFS which is the only receiver with this facility.
We are incredibly impressed with the Manhattan Plaza HD-S, it offers excellent picture quality via HDMI, with the handy option of Scart for those that wish to future-proof and add a HD Ready television at a later date. The sound offered both through HDMI and the digital optical port is clear and crisp, though it does seem to blip for a second just after accessing menus. The TV guide is great and very easy to navigate, with no delays in scrolling through the lists or accessing channels. We love the favourites menu and the ability to add both Freesat and non-freesat channels and access them easily, but we did find adding them a little clumsy. The box design is simply but effective, as is the remote control which we found easy to use and were soon accessing channels and menus without even looking at it.
It is important to note that Manhattan have targetted the lower end of the Freesat HD price range, so whilst we’d love to have seen more features such as USB recording and playback, plus diseqc functionality, the receiver serves its purpose for those that just want a basic Freesat receiver capable of accessing both SD and HD channels in good quality with simplistic functionality. The HD-S is priced to take a large share of the Freesat HD market and we firmly believe at around £85 (rrp) it will be successful; if it can also retain the reliability of the existing DS-100 we think this little box will be a winner.
Joinfreesat score 9 out of 10
The Manhattan Plaza HD-S is due to launch in the next few days and will be available from Satbuyer plus others.